Short and insulting, the first narrative expansion for Dead Space 3 typifies what can go wrong when downloadable content is poorly planned and implemented. Even the word "expansion" feels too grand for what you get here. Awakened is a 90-minute epilogue that barely bothers to mask its origins as an exercise in asset recycling.
It picks up immediately after the conclusion of the game's campaign, so spoiler-wary players who have yet to finish the story should steer clear - both of the DLC and the rest of this review.
Isaac and Carver have destroyed the sentient alien moon that was apparently the source of the Necromorph threat. Both have apparently sacrificed themselves, unless you stuck around for the post-credits sting that shows - surprise! - Isaac is still alive. Not only alive, it transpires, but suddenly transported back to the surface of Tau Volantis with nary a scratch. There's a brief bit of dialogue as our two heroes ponder just what happened, but this add-on isn't in the business of tying up such loose ends. "Alien machine make magic thing happen," explains Isaac (I'm paraphrasing) and with that, you're off.
Off into a truncated sequence of locations you've already visited and gameplay mechanics you've already exhausted. It's a common problem with DLC, where the budget rarely allows for the creation of new assets, but there's still a weary sense of deja vu as you plod through familiar frozen corridors before nipping back to the Terra Nova to revisit even more places you've already stomped clean.
They're not clean, of course, because - guess what? That big finale to the game where you were told you'd eradicated the Necromorphs once and for all? That didn't actually work. There are Necromorphs all over the place.
It's bad enough that Awakened is a sort of megamix retread of bits from the main game, but the way it utterly undermines its own narrative is perhaps its most depressing aspect. Nothing more clearly demonstrates how cavalier gaming's attitude to story can be than this willingness to throw away everything players spent 15 hours working towards. Your blood-soaked adventure was all for nothing - but you're not supposed to mind because it means you get to spend another hour and a bit slaughtering more monsters.
It's bad enough that Awakened is a sort of megamix retread of bits from the main game, but the way it utterly undermines its own narrative is perhaps its most depressing aspect
Cult leader Danik may have died, but that doesn't matter because there's a new anonymous cult leader to take his place. This guy must have worked fast - in the game's timeline, these events take place minutes after Danik got squished - but he fails to make an impression, turning up like a cut-price version of Silent Hill's Pyramid Head to stalk you in hallucinatory moments.
These hallucinations are presumably supposed to make Awakened scary, but they're cookie-cutter stuff. We've been transported to scratchy red hell dimensions hundreds of times since Doom came out, and this adds nothing to the cliché. Nor do the hallucinations come to anything. They're literally a distraction - a cheap way of disorienting the player (or players, in co-op), but never tied into the narrative in a satisfactory way. The fact that you can die in these hallucinations while the monsters slain in your mind leave behind crafting materials in the real world is almost expected. Kick narrative consistency in the nuts rather than shake up those tried and trusted gameplay mechanics.
You collect a thingumajig to fix a spaceship. You ride a tram. You perform a bit of stasis-assisted repair work on a giant rotating engine core. There's a brief bit of weightlessness, a bit where you climb up another cliff face on a grapple and a couple of dead ends away from the linear path where bonus goodies can be found. Mostly, you'll dismember a hundred or more creatures, because it's Dead Space and that's what you do.
Let's not forget, Awakened was supposed to contain "some of the most disturbing content [you] have ever seen in a Dead Space game", leaving some fans expecting that this was where the horror so sorely missing from the full game might be found. No such luck. If anything, with its compact length and breakneck pace, this is arguably more action-based than the main campaign. Moments of unease never last for more than a few seconds, and what scares are on offer fall into the same cheap monster closet format that was wrung dry in the core game. Since you're likely to be playing this after completing the game, with improved weapon parts scattered about the place, you'll carve your way through the enemies without problem.
The ending, which we must assume is meant to be Dead Space 3's true conclusion, is trite and obvious. If you haven't guessed what cliffhanger you're building up to by halfway through, you've obviously not seen enough dumb sci-fi movies. It so blatantly and shamelessly sets up Dead Space 4 as an even more action-driven epic that fans are likely to throw their hands up and walk away, if they haven't already.
The only thing keeping Awakened from the lower reaches of our scoring scale is the fact that it's built on the same solid mechanics as the original game, and is thus at least passably entertaining for the short amount of time needed to complete it. It's a decent third-person shooter, if nothing else. For a game that was designed to be replayed in various New Game + configurations, however, it's questionable why you'd need to pay extra for another tiny dollop of the same old thing.
But pay extra you must, and it casts Awakened in an unflattering light. For any game, this sort of slapdash, make-do premium content would be disappointing - but for a game already embroiled in controversy over multiple downloadable additions and micro-payments, it feels like a very heavy straw dropped on the back of a particularly weak camel.
Pathetically short, entirely uneventful and clearly stuck together from existing assets, Awakened doesn't add anything to its parent game other than a punchline that makes it clear that Isaac's trials on Tau Volantis were ultimately a waste of his - and our - time.